- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 7, 2008

When the Colts left Baltimore in 1984, a marketing effort attempted to get the Baltimore area to warm up to the Washington Redskins. It failed.

When the Senators left Washington after the 1971 season, a campaign attempted to get Washington to embrace the Baltimore Orioles. It succeeded only to a degree — witness the 34 years fans in the District spent fighting for a team of their own.

But there finally may be something to connect Washington and Baltimore sports fans: pain.

That is so for Redskins and Orioles fans, who share the pain of owners who operate on personal whim rather than in the best interests of their franchises, owners deaf to the pleas of fans and unsympathetic to their pain.

These are fans who have seen the best of times — and not that long ago either. The Redskins made four Super Bowl appearances from 1982 to 1991. A generation of Orioles fans grew up when the franchise was the best in baseball, winning six American League pennants and three World Series titles from 1966 to 1983.

Now the owners fiddle, the teams burn and the fans can only watch.

The Orioles tore down their team again to start over — and attempted to trade a Cy Young candidate to do so. The Redskins failed to capitalize on any momentum from the second Joe Gibbs tenure and a playoff appearance. They instead embarked on a coaching search that made the franchise a source of national ridicule.

All that keeps the hearts of fans in the game are the memories of the greatness that once was.

The franchises had three such days to celebrate the past last week — precious days for Orioles and Redskins fans now.

About 150 fans came to ESPN Zone in Baltimore on Thursday for a program honoring members of the Orioles’ last World Series champions, the 1983 squad. Six members of that team — Ken Singleton, Al Bumbry, Scott McGregor, Tippy Martinez, Bill Swaggerty and John Stefero — signed autographs and shared stories with fans who wanted to reminiscence about the glory days.

“I want to thank you for the memories I have of that World Series,” said one woman in an accent as “Bawlmer” as you could ever hear. “I remember walking to the parade at the Inner Harbor and how much fun it was. I hope I can see another one someday.”

Friday night featured the Cal Ripken Sr. Foundation’s fourth annual gala. A crowd packed the large ballroom at the Baltimore Waterfront Marriott for a program that in addition to Cal Jr. and Billy Ripken featured Hall of Fame Orioles manager Earl Weaver, other former Orioles and Hall of Famers from other teams. Not one member of the current Orioles team was in the crowd — just no connection whatsoever.

Looking over the crowd, seeing the heavy hitters in the audience who helped the foundation raise a remarkable $1.6 million in one night, I was struck by how the Ripken brand has outstripped the Orioles brand in Baltimore.

The Ripken name is bigger, more popular and carries more impact than the home team, a team whose stature falls with each passing, losing season — a number currently at 10 straight and certainly headed to 11 this season.

The next day, it was the turn of Redskins fans to be transported from a painful present to a proud past.

Art Monk finally was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame and in with him went Darrell Green, two Redskins from those winning times. That will hold Redskins fans until the hiring of a new coach brings them back to reality. But the good feelings will return in August, when Monk and Green are inducted at Canton. That’s the nice thing about history; it’s always there to call on, even in the darkest days.

Both teams likely will call on that history this year to ease some of the pain. The Orioles are planning a number of events honoring the 1983 team, and the Redskins likely will honor Monk and Green at FedEx Field next season (traditionally, the Hall of Fame rings are presented during the season at the home stadiums of the inductees).

But as much pleasure as those good memories bring, they also remind everyone how bad the bad times are.

That, at least, is a place Washington football and Baltimore baseball fans can find common ground: good memories and bad times.

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